Education: Reasons for Concern

by blackspanielgallery

Education is important, but in too many cases, and at multiple levels, quality education is being ignored, or worse, claimed where it is not.

As a college professor, now in my thirty-first year of teaching, I have seen students with a decreasing level of preparedness. Some are well prepared, but an increasing number are not. Some are, for all practical purposes, functioning illiterates, at least in some subject areas. Some have revealed where and why there is little background without realizing it, they think they are justifying their situation. The level of some students reaching college is alarming, and when we think these people expect to one day have a degree and impact society it is cause for dismay.

The examples I am presenting are by no means isolated cases.

Education Concern

The Early Grades

I teach mathematics to those who are preparing to be elementary school teachers.  These students will impact the next generation.  But, some of my students cannot handle arithmetic without a calculator.


On a recent test I gave an easy question, as some questions should be.  I asked that they convert 9.5 feet to inches.  One came up with 1,140.  There is no use of the calculator in my course, and when confronted with a decimal one student simply ignored it.  Another student multiplied ½(5)(4) and got 40.  When I looked to see how this came about she inverted the 1/2, then multiplied.


Before the test one of my students complained about not being allowed to use a calculator.  She said throughout school whenever it was time for mathematics the teacher would say take out your calculator.  Yes, one can get the right answer doing this, but studying mathematics is not just about getting answers.  The more important aspect of mathematics is to develop a thought process.  Indeed, when one has letters in an expression as happens in algebra, the calculator is of little value.


Choosing a School

Better Education
School Choice: The Findings

Education and Word Recognition

Basic Vocabulary

On the same test mentioned above, there was a need to find both surface area and volume.  I had students use the wrong formula, even though I allow them to look the formula up during the test.  There was no consideration given by some to the meaning of the word area and the word volume.  The formula for area was used for volume, and the formula for volume was used for area.  What does this say about vocabulary?

Education Problems

Other Subjects Impacted

Our English faculty is having difficulty in the composition courses.  Students, at least some of them, no longer are able to write using proper grammar.  When I was in college every error, no matter how small, was one letter grade in English composition.  I am told that if we held the old standards no one would pass.  So, we have lower standards.


I also teach physical science, and assign projects.  There are always a few who cannot write well.  Matching tense is not important to them.


Some years ago I remember a teachers’ strike, and one of the teachers was interviewed on television.  She taught a lower level class.  The problem with education was evident, her grammar was atrocious.  Her students would likely mimic her, so they were being infused with wrong grammar when they were most impressionable.  This damage could easily be too severe for the next teacher to repair, so the students would go on making poor sentence structure, even creating new words such as pluralizing you with an “s.”


Education Disaster

College Level

At the college level there is a push for results.  Passing rates are seen as the measure of success, so the faculties at some institutions are pressured into lowering standards. 


At one university I had a limit of fifteen percent that I could lose in college algebra with withdrawal or failure, at another university there were departmental finals in college algebra, and failure was well over fifty percent, of the sixty percent who did not drop the course.   The course is difficult, but s needed to develop the logical thought process.  The high passing rate at the first institution was a reaction by the department chair to the dean, who did not want the education majors to stagnate in college algebra and not complete their program.  Still, as further reaction, the department developed an alternative course where students were expected to “have an appreciation for mathematics” by viewing graphs on a calculator.  The rigor was removed, and the education majors given this new course.  Then, the statistics course was watered down for the education department to the point that the computer department complained there was too little rigor to be able to get an accreditation that was being sought.  The solution was to ramp up the course for one semester, then create a new, more rigorous course for the computer department while reverting to the easy course for the elementary education majors.


At my present college I had to review some courses of other professors.  One course I reviewed had in the syllabus the message to the students that they are the professor’s customers, and the professor needed happy customers who would recommend the course to others.  This particular professor has a reputation among the faculty of being too weak, and giving higher grades than the students would have in any other class.


Education Crisis

The Causes

There is a philosophy that results are the objective.  Passing young children who cannot do arithmetic, but can get answers on tests using calculators, makes the teacher look good to the administration.  Similar corners being cut in other subjects, and at multiple levels, often allowing students to move on with little ability.  The problem compounds when other teachers are confronted with students not ready to move on reaching the next grade, and having too little time to repeat the previous year’s work while presenting the current material.


Another problem is standardized tests.  The local teachers too often teach to the test, not being concerned with whether true learning is going on.  The focus is narrow, but improved scores over the previous year is taken as success.


Another problem is in the college educational programs.  People are given degrees with bogus knowledge.  I have a friend who obtained a doctorate degree from an education department.  Her dissertation was a study whether students learn better from viewing material on the computer, or from an instructor speaking to them.  The conclusion favored the computer, but one thing I realized skewed the data was ignored.  My friend used her own classes, and for her English was a second language.  Yes, her students understood the computer better, but could that be extrapolated to other professors?  But, it was accepted, and published, so others can read the results and simply opt for computer presentations.


Education and Textbooks

Are the Authors Making Things Too Easy?

I have reviewed many textbooks, and written many supplements to them.  One problem I have encountered is the wording for the supplements must be exact.  If an author uses the instructions “Solve the equation” and I write a problem asking that the student “Find the solution” the author would complain that his exact words were not used.  My reason for changing the wording is to probe whether the students really has understanding of what is being asked, or are the students memorizing words.  Again, memorization gives better results, so more colleges might adopt using the book.  Understanding is not as important to some textbook authors as results.

Education and Social Promotion

Students expect to Pass

One problem of current society is everybody gets a trophy, and no one ever loses.  This, taken to education, comes out there is a way for everybody to pass. 


One day I was in a shared office with a friend.  One of his students came to see him.  We were finalizing grades, and some classes had their grades already finished.  The student told him that he made an error in her grade. He looked, and responded that she failed the final exam, and was failing the course before the final exam, so her F was accurate.  She quickly replied, “But I came every day.  What about the rule that if you come every day you get a C.  This is how it always was in high school.”  Well, her F remained.  The high school was handing out social promotions, and graduating people who simply showed up.


The State of Education


Some schools do a credible job of teaching, but too many do not.  As the adage goes, you get what you pay for.  Private schools must show results, and parents will not accept grades as the only indication of learning.  Many are doing a fine job of educating students.  As for public schools, some districts have high standards, but some do not.  Higher taxation is not the same thing as investing directly in education.  Parents who invest in private education have money being used, so parental involvement is likely to be greater.


Investing both time and money by homeschooling is a good way to bring about even better results. Provided one has both the time and skill set needed.  I would not think some of my present students would do well homeschooling their children.


But, if my students are an indication, their weaknesses will one day if allowed to continue unchecked, propagate to yet another generation.  And as more of the teachers become illiterate, what will become of society?


I can only report on what I have observed.  It is the situation in this area, but I have no way to know if the problems are nationwide, or even global.  I fear it may be a national problem, and if so the future for our country may be bleak.


Feedback from other places is welcome.


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Updated: 10/09/2017, blackspanielgallery
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frankbeswick on 10/10/2017

Universities in the UK are expected to maintain high academic standards, but obviously they vary among themselves in their quality. At the bottom end there are some ex-polytechnics that have low standards in certain degrees, but there are very high quality institutions such as Oxford, Cambridge, Manchester, Liverpool, Nottingham,York and Durham, to name but a few. The government, which you might have inferred that I dislike intensely, did something right [for once] when it looked recently into universities to check whether they were giving away high grades too easily.

The problem with the polytechnics is that the Conservative government in 1992 allowed them to become universities. They did this for ideological reasons, as the left supported polytechnics, so the right opposed them! To do this the government allowed the polytechnic vice chancellors to inflate their own pay if they made the change to university status, and the vice chancellors, who run the institutions, were like pigs rushing to the trough. Some paid themselves more than the heads of Oxford and Cambridge, but not every institution made the transition well. Some made a good go of the change and offer good degrees, but others have poor reputations.

blackspanielgallery on 10/10/2017

Thanks, Frank. I thought it might be better in the U. K. One thing I was hopeful of obtaining is feedback on conditions elsewhere.
I once had a student tell me she planned to teach the second grade, and to skip mathematics when she did. I had another ask me to print, she could not read cursive. But, the worse is when I came upon a friend sitting dejected after being told his students filed a complaint that he was using too large of words for a class in a university, and the department chair agreed with the students.
These students are the people we need to count on to solve problems, like global warming. That is the real frightening part of the situation.

frankbeswick on 10/10/2017

Well said! You have fulfiled the first moral requirement for a writer, to speak the truth, unpopular though it may be.

I can add some cases from my own experience. Once when asked to take a maths class for an absent teacher, a twelve year old girl asked me for a calculator. I said that the calculators were in a locked cupboard to which I had no key, but she should work out the sum for herself. She said that 48 divided by four was too hard to do! I made her do the sum with me. Maybe she thought me hard, but I was doing her a favour.

Less excusable was a girl in a revision class that I was teaching. She was seventeen and was having trouble with her Religious Studies work. She was studying Mark's Gospel. Half way through the lesson I had an insight and asked her "Have you ever read this gospel?" The answer was no, she was working from notes and hand outs from the lecturer. I said that as we had three sessions booked, her homework for the first two nights was to actually read the book, the first half one night, the rest on the night after that. We got feed back from her. When she finally sat the exam she obtained the best result of all students in her class, two grades higher than any other of her classmates. So what standards was the teacher settting?

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